With the release of Adi Parva, perhaps Amruta Patil will be discussed not just as India’s ‘first woman graphic novelist’ but as an artist at the height of her powers, says AJACHI CHAKRABARTI
Four years ago, Patil was being fêted as India’s first female graphic novelist for her bold work, Kari, the story of a lesbian heroine whose love has moved away. While there were comparisons made to Marjane Satrapi by starry-eyed critics, there was a sense among many that the book had its flaws, that it was trying too hard, that her best was yet to come. Writing for TEHELKA, Patil said Kari escaped being bonsaied by label and went on to find her own audience. She has written about being forced to take a stand on her own sexuality, saying that “if one believes in falling in love with people (as opposed to body parts), then I identify as gender oblivious. It irks some people, but I like it this way — unapologetic, but unlabelled.” Her rejection of labels, rooted in the essence of the Mahabharata, makes writing about her doubly difficult, deprived as one is of the crutches of easy classification. Clearly, she is not a typical graphic novelist; her scholastic approach suggests a very literary sensibility that could just as easily be seen in a conventional novelist.
A side-effect of Kari’s success helped in the making of Adi Parva: a residency, sponsored in part by the French Embassy in India, in Angoulême, the capital of the comics world. The residency was useful, she says, “as for the first time I could not make excuses and had to devote myself to this massive task”. She learnt how to paint and interacted with talented artists, leading to a visible difference in the quality of the visuals in the two books. Unlike the black and white aesthetic of Kari, Adi Parva tells the story in full colour, with charcoal depictions of the sutradhar scenes. The striking illustrations do justice to the scale of the story, and there are references for the keen eye to the works of Gauguin, Matisse and Botticelli, whose Birth of Venus is replicated in the form of Menaka breaking Vishwamitra’s penance.